No tears for end of Cook County soda tax — and no more pop runs to Indiana

Since Cook County’s sweetened beverage tax went into effect, Ida White has been driving just over the Indiana border to meet her sister, who lives in South Bend, to make a Canada Dry handoff.

“When she calls today, I’ll let her know she doesn’t have to anymore,” said White, a 55-year-old nurse, as she loaded groceries into her car at the Cermak Fresh Market in Bridgeport.

There was no tearful goodbye for one of the shortest-lived taxes in state history, which expired at midnight Thursday after being repealed in October. A dozen or so shoppers interviewed on Chicago’s South Side said they were happy to see it go.

Likewise, Cook County retailers are relishing the opportunity to win back customers who drifted across county lines, where there was no penny-per-ounce tax on thousands of sugar- and artificially sweetened drinks.

In an interview earlier this week, Jewel-Osco President Doug Cygan said some customers had been shopping the Highland Park store, which is in Lake County, instead of the newly remodeled Deerfield store in Cook County.

“Our goal is to tell the stores who got (the additional business), find out a way to keep it. And the ones who don’t have it, you better go get it,” Cygan said.

That will also mean some advertising to let customers know the tax is officially repealed, he said.

Outside the Bronzeville Mariano’s store Friday, Lakita Chandler, 30, said she has three young children and never felt the tax was fair.

“We don’t do a lot of the sugary drinks but if we choose to, it should be our choice and we shouldn’t have to be taxed for it,” Chandler said.

Last year, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle championed the passage of the tax as a way to fill a growing budget deficit and prevent the further erosion of public services, while also improving public health.

But the powerful beverage industry, backed by companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, aligned with local retailers to effectively fight the tax, which was also beset by county missteps and numerous lawsuits.

After repealing the tax in October, the Cook County Board adopted a budget last month that will lay off 321 employees in the absence of the revenue from the sweetened beverage tax.

Nia Williams, a 37-year-old mail carrier who lives in Hyde Park and is the mother of a teenager, said she too had been driving to Indiana.

Williams said she didn’t know the repeal of the tax meant layoffs for more than 300 people, but she also said she didn’t trust the county’s management of its finances to believe that was truly necessary.

“That tax was a problem to begin with,” Williams said.

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Twitter @GregTrotterTrib

Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune
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